Finding supply solution in U.S.

AFTER guiding the company of Charles Openshaw and Sons for 55 years, James Dewsbury Chorlton died on Thursday, May 16, 1968, at the age of 95.

He had saved it from extinction in 1940 after its Manchester offices and warehouse were obliterated by German bombers and, by his very nature, had continued to care for his workers in much the same way as Charles Openshaw himself had done a century before.

He had married Ella Southern, sister of R. H. Southern of the prominent national timber merchants, himself an Openshaw director between 1953 and 1969. Mr and Mrs Chorlton had two daughters, both of whom died tragically in their 20s.

One small example of Mr Chorlton’s understanding and kindness came in the harsh winter of 1955/56 following the move from Stansfield Road to Stackhills. The warehouse boiler broke down and, without central heating, two of the elderly warehousemen needed to work in their personal overcoats and scarves to keep themselves warm. On hearing of the situation “J.D.” immediately handed out 25 to all seven warehousemen, so they could each buy a thick sweater; a tidy amount of money in those days.

In his early life Mr Chorlton had been a keen horseman, golfer, hiker and mountain climber and had travelled widely in Europe and both North and South America. He had retired as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Openshaws in 1966 at the age of 93 and was succeeded by his nephew Colin Gray, who had been a director there since 1956.

Richard Crabtree, formerly a director of Charles Crabtree and Sons, a local family firm of cotton spinners and weavers, joined Openshaws in 1970 as UK Sales Manager. His good working relationship with the company salesmen soon produced the desired effect with better than expected results. He soon brought in two additional salesmen who were equally successful and was rewarded with a directorship on November 1, 1971.

As a way of improving service and thereby increasing turnover, he instigated the opening of local depots. The move soon caught on and later, with branches in seven major cities, including London and Glasgow, Openshaws became recognised as one of the top three suppliers to printers throughout the United Kingdom.

Seven years had elapsed since Reeves USA had introduced its incredibly successful compressible printing blanket in this country and had since built a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Lodi Vecchio, not far from Milan, Italy. Openshaws were still no nearer to offering an equivalent and whilst the bulk of its sales came from material produced by Dunlop GRG, they turned to Dayco, a USA based blanket manufacturer with a factory in Dundee, Scotland.

Dayco produced a blanket for Openshaws which they called “Ultra 101” but, sharp as it printed, it wasn’t a compressible. For a time though it became the mainstay of their blanket business, price being its advantage against the highly expensive product from Reeves. Still, Openshaws persisted in its search for a compressible blanket. As a market leader, it was expected of them.

At “PRINT 68”, the American equivalent of the huge European exhibitions, held at McCormick Place, Chicago, they found one. Because of their international reputation, Openshaws were able to sign up to an exclusive domestic agency agreement, there and then. The blanket, known as the “Mercury Radial Compressible”, was made by Rapid Roller Company Inc, of Chicago. Within a few months Dunlop GRG responded with two more; “Ultraweb”, especially made for newspaper presses, and “Ultra 303”, for sheet fed machines, boosting Openshaw’s standing still further.

The company had a Pre-Press Department, separate to its press supplies and considerable by any standards. They were agents for presensitised aluminium plates from Japan, made by Fuji and Toray, the latter known as “Waterless” and unique, as it was specifically produced to print without the need for dampening materials. Openshaw were distributors of 3M seamless dampening sleeves made from compressed, hardened paper which contracted when wet. They had an exclusive UK sales agreement with Max Gress of Dusseldorf, manufacturers of a finely knitted tubular cotton dampening cover. Openshaws sold it in enormous quantities.

Pressed felts in varying thicknesses, moleskin and the best nylon sewing threads complemented this side of the business. The company was the country’s largest converter and supplier of ICI Melinex and Agralon film for montage assembly during platemaking. A custom built slitting and rolling machine was installed at Stackhills that could cope with anything asked of it - even to automatically interleave the cut or rolled film with fine tissue paper.

Openshaw’s had red and blue pre-coated foils and masking materials, Konica photographic film and several types of proofing papers. They supplied densitometers, magnifying glasses, artists’ brushes, adhesives; everything in fact that was essential for pre-press planning.

It had all been under the control of UK Sales Director Richard Crabtree though in the late 1970s the Pre-Press Department became partly managed by Barry Myerscough. He had joined the company eight years earlier after Company Secretary Leo Tansey had engaged him as Company Accountant. Leo Tansey, who joined the Openshaw Board of Directors in August 1971, had succeeded former Secretary David S. Jackson, who retired in October, 1969, after 40 years with the company, almost 34 of them as a director.

Barry Myerscough’s first directive was to carry out a winding-up exercise of the fashion side of Openshaw’s business. Its mainstay lines of Courtelle and Crimplene had gone out of fashion and the company had taken the decision to concentrate entirely on printers supplies. He valued all the stock at the company’s remaining retail shops in Bury, Bolton, Preston and at Stackhills and everything was sold off and the shops closed.

Colin Gray was then succeeded as Managing Director by A. B. Copping who had solely been responsible for Openshaw’s printer’s supplies since its pioneer F. A. Bland retired in 1962. Colin Gray remained Chairman and then devoted his attention to the further development of ABC/Allied chemicals where he was a director and founding partner.

Barry Myerscough eventually became full-time manager of the Pre-Press Division, making it stronger than ever, though he left in 1992 to join Service Offset Supplies in Bolton as UK Commercial Manager.

The company had been without an export manager between 1972-73 after which Martin Olive was taken on to fill the position. Soon afterwards this writer returned from Horsells of Leeds, rejoining that department to cover existing export markets, Eastern Bloc, Middle and Far Eastern excepted, and search for new ones, worldwide, though with special emphasis on the Caribbean, Central and South America. Norman Cluett joined the export division as its shipping manager and Rita Wadsworth continued her role as the department’s secretary. In 1976 Henning de Boutemard joined the export sales team with specific responsibilities for Eastern Bloc countries, the Middle East and Indonesia.

Sybil Hodgson came to Openshaw on November 5, 1973, as the Managing Director’s personal assistant and a year or so later Martin Olive was made Export Director. Combined with its UK business, the company had become the UK’s leading specialist in supplies to the lithographic printing industry and would stay ahead of the field for many years to come.

lIN the next instalment (November 11) - a thriving business worldwide as Openshaws reach out to Central Asia, the Americas and the Far East and a takeover by a company which, among other things, gave Openshaw a link with a classic James Bond movie...

Copyright: William A. Birch, 2005.